Huffpost Politics

Rick Santorum Denounces 'Gutter Politics' In GOP Race

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JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 26: Republican presidential candidates former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (L) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) participate in a debate sponsored by CNN, the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network at the University North Florida on January 26, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 26: Republican presidential candidates former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (L) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) participate in a debate sponsored by CNN, the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network at the University North Florida on January 26, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

COTTLEVILLE, Mo. — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum denounced the "gutter politics" of his opponents Monday as he turned his campaign away from a potentially futile effort in Florida in hopes of regaining momentum in the Midwest.

After spending what he described as a stressful weekend with his sick 3-year-old daughter, Santorum resumed his campaign at a suburban St. Louis community college and later at a theater in Luverne, Minn., while forecasting a political revival in states such as Missouri and Minnesota.

In St. Louis, the former senator from Pennsylvania carefully avoided naming Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – he trails them in polls heading into Tuesday's primary in Florida – but nonetheless directed a scolding toward them for what he said is devolving into a negative campaign.

"I'm sick and tired of candidates who think they have to do anything that's necessary – anything – to win an election," Santorum told more than 300 people packed into an auditorium at St. Charles Community College. "We deserve better than the gutter politics that we've been seeing in this race."

Santorum is the first Republican candidate to appear in Missouri in advance of its Feb. 7 primary, which will essentially be a statewide public opinion poll. The Republican Party plans to award its presidential delegates in Missouri through a series of caucuses that begin in mid-March. Gingrich didn't get on Missouri's primary ballot while others who have since dropped out of the race will be listed alongside Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul.

Santorum said he still considers Missouri's primary to be important. Because of Gingrich's absence, it could allow Santorum to test his political strength more directly against that of Romney, who has been building a network of prominent Republican endorsements in Missouri.

"I think doing well in the primary well help us in the caucus," Santorum told The Associated Press after his Missouri campaign event.

Democratic President Barack Obama narrowly lost Missouri in 2008 to Republican Sen. John McCain.

Santorum campaigned Monday in one of Missouri's fastest-growing and staunchly Republican counties. Because the crowd exceeded the capacity of the auditorium, he later took a bullhorn to speak to an additional 150 people outside, then lingered to hold babies, pose for photos and sign autographs.

During his campaign speech, Santorum touted his plan to eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturers and waive taxes on money earned by companies overseas if it is brought back to the US and invested in new equipment at plants. He pledged to repeal all regulations enacted during Obama's presidency, to enforce trade laws against China and to support fundamental change to the education system, though he offered few specifics beyond combining numerous federal education programs under large block grants to states and local schools.

Among those at his Missouri campaign event was Marty Leitner, a longtime Republican who said she appreciated the family emphasis of both Santorum and Romney but had become turned off by reports about Romney's wealth.

"I think Santorum's a little more like most normal people, and Romney's a little out of touch with most average Americans," said Leitner, 43, of St. Charles.

Minnesota holds its caucuses on Feb. 7. Santorum assured about 300 people at the Palace Theatre in Luverne that they were part of the early-nominating process, too.

"You don't get all the play that Iowa gets," he said. "Your caucuses aren't as big as Iowa's, maybe, but they're just as important."

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Associated Press writer Amber Hunt in Luverne, Minn., contributed to this report.

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